My inclination is to go with the imperfective when talking about someone who has died, as I think of it in terms of general description about who they were:
“My mother was an amazing woman. She was an excellent teacher, and loved her work.”
Am I correct that the imperfect is most appropriate in this situation? Would putting a time limit trigger the preterite?
“She was a teacher for 20 years, and loved her work.”
yes, you are right. The imperfect is more appropriate when talking about/describing people's lives, but if you start getting a bit more specific adding a time phrase then you can use the preterite. Sometimes, with time phrases that indicate a period of time but is not too specific we can use both. For example:
Mi padre era pintor.
Mi padre fue/era pintor en los años 80.
Mi padre fue pintor durante 10 años/desde 1980 a 1989.
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